4 month sleep regression - fact or fiction?
Just when you think you have figured out your baby’s sleep patterns, you have navigated your way through the tricky “fourth” trimester, and suddenly your baby starts to cut their naps short, waking every 45 minutes throughout the day, becoming more and more difficult to get to sleep in the first place, and often waking more frequently overnight, sometimes as much as every 2 hours.
What is going on?
This is what sleep consultants and parents refer to as the 4-month sleep regression. It is actually more a progression in terms of your babies sleep maturity, but it is a regression in terms of how well they are sleeping.
What do you need to know?
It’s 100% normal for your baby to suddenly start waking after 45 minutes. This is a full sleep cycle for a baby, they take 15-20 minutes to drift off from a light sleep to a deep sleep, and this deep sleep is over 25 minutes later. If your baby is napping for more than 45 minutes, they are completing more than one of these sleep cycles.
Overnight in the first 3 months often your babies sleep cycles or phases are 4-6 hour’s long, this can mean you baby sleeps for 4-6 hours has a quick feed and then returns to sleep for another 4-6 hours, bliss!
Once this 4-month sleep regression hits and your baby’s night sleep patterns change, babies often start to wake every 2-4 hours overnight. This is due to the change in sleep cycle length, and often over tiredness from the short day time naps.
We only expect a partial wake up every 2 hour’s, so a well-rested baby will stir and if being monitored for sleep, they will drift into a light sleep phase, and then back into a deeper sleep for a further 2 hours before fully waking up. But an overtired baby will wake fully when they reach that light sleep phase, and often cry out for comfort, settling or a feed.
What can you do to help your Baby?
As the 4-month sleep regression is not really a regression but a progression in your babies sleep maturity, it is not something which your baby will “come through” as such. Their sleep will improve with time and a little help from you! Babies need to adjust to the changes they are experiencing, and you can help them with small easy changes to their sleep hygiene and self-settling skills.
First and foremost is sleep hygiene: Ensure their sleep environment is conducive to good sleep, a nice dark sleep space will promote melatonin production and be less distracting when you baby wakes after 45 minutes’.
Ensuring your baby has an age appropriate awake window, one which means baby is not over or under tired. We generally aim for around 2 hours awake time by 4 months, this is of course give or take depending on the baby. Some positive sleep associations such as white noise, swaddles and sleeping bags will also be useful in good sleep hygiene.
Once your basics are in place, you can consider if your baby can self-settle, or if they are heading in that direction? If your baby relies on you to be rocked or held to sleep, then it’s unfair to think after one sleep cycle (day or night) minutes they won’t need this again to go back to sleep.
So before thinking about re-settling skills, focus on self-settling skills, and teaching your baby to put themselves to sleep from drowsy or wide awake.
Sometimes when your baby is taking short naps and waking frequently overnight, the sleep debt can accumulate and this buildup of sleep debt can result in even shorter naps, often 30 minutes long, and more and more crying from your baby throughout the day.
They are miserable.
This is often when we receive a desperate phone call from parents. At this stage I would recommend you try assisted naps for a few days to get on top of that sleep debt. This means going for a walk for your baby’s naps, or baby wearing, anything which will easily ensure your baby gets some longer more restorative naps. You might also want to peg back those awake windows for a few days to help reduce those stress hormones associated with this kind of sleep debt.
The second action point is to move to a much earlier bed time, often as early as 6pm will allow your baby to catch up on some much needed sleep after a day of short naps, and prevent the night from completely falling apart. Finally, we recommend working on night sleep while you do those nice easy naps in the day. Using self-settling strategies to gently teach your 4 month old to go back to sleep independently is the key to those longer stretches of sleep at night.
Hang in there! If your baby has started taking these short 45 minutes, and their night sleep is regressing you are probably finding yourself in a very stressed, overwhelmed and exhausted state! You are not alone, this is one of the most common issues we deal with at Baby Sleep Consultant.
Concentrating on more night sleep will help both of you to feel less over tired, and consequently you will both have more patience to deal with the short naps once you are ready.
What did these mum's do?
Chloe “My daughter went through it between 3.5 and 4.5 months and it was a month of hell. Went from sleeping through the night with a dream feed to waking multiple times and crying, and she was just unable to be settled. Her 45 minutes’ naps dropped to just 20 minutes! It was worse than when she was a newborn. I ended up contacting Baby Sleep Consultant as I was exhausted physically and emotionally, Emma sorted her day sleeps and her night sleeps.”
Kelly Johnson “The 1 big thing that helped me was research, so by the time I had my 4th child I learnt about the 4 month change in sleep patterns. I was prepared, I had a baby carrier so he could be if I needed a long nap and it wasn't happening, and I was made sure I was eating properly as I was breastfeeding and he was on a nap routine by 4 months. I followed the Baby Sleep Consultant 3-8 month sleep program and we got through it with less drama than my other 3!!"
Kate Gentile “ I have four kids and con honestly say if the 4 month sleep regression hit, I didn’t notice it! We had a strict nap routine by 3 months every time, and I made sure my babies took at least 2 naps a day in their bassinet”
Sharai de Klerk “ My little one seems to have started it at 13 weeks. We went from great day sleeps and sleeping all night, from 5/6 weeks to waking every 1.5-3 hours, worse than a newborn! I had some advice from a Baby Sleep Consultant to ensure good day naps, I baby wore for the first few days, and it really helped. We are back to 1-2 feeds max a night. Try the sleep program, it works!!!”
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